Pilgrimpace's Blog

ken leech


My good friend Ken Leech has died after a long period of ill health.  I want to pay tribute to him and the important influence he has had on my pilgrimage.

There are good reflections on Ken’s life by Savi Hensman here, and Jon Kuhrt here.  There are a couple of good newspaper obituaries here and here.

Details of Ken’s Funeral at St Chrysostom’s, Manchester are here.

I am slightly ambivalent about writing this – there is a tendency towards hero worship in socialist catholic circles.  Ken was a real person.  He needed to be with people yet was shy and private.  His best writing on life and prayer is rooted in authentic and deep spiritual struggle.

I am extremely grateful to have known Ken.  As an undergraduate, my university chaplain put my in touch with the Jubilee Group and I was welcomed into the exciting chaos of that period of Ango-Catholic Socialism.  My first job was working with homeless people in the Crypt at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, on the staff was Ken who had a desk downstairs.  Ken was extremely generous in encouraging and supporting me as I worked out my way forward and struggled spiritually as to what it meant to be working in a very raw place with people on the sharpest end of structural sin.  There was a lot of beer and laughter and funny stories to leaven it all – life was about Kingdom living as well as struggle.

Ken’s clear vision of the inseparability of prayer, effective social action and prophetic witness are vital here.  I have carried them with me since.  Ken introduced me to the Sisters of the Love of God and to the Carmelite tradition.  He was wonderful at connecting people as well as traditions.  I have a clear memory of an afternoon sitting on the floor of Ken’s sitting room in that Whitechapel attic as a crowd of us listened to Dorothee Soelle.  His vision is needed today as we fight the current repackaged brand of Thatcherism and its assault on those who have least in Britain.

His books are such an important legacy.  He had a rare ability to write engaged and engaging theology in a way that was utterly clear and readable (although he would roll his eyes when people thought there were two Ken Leeches – the one that wrote about prayer, and the one that wrote about politics).  The books I turn to the most are Spirituality and Pastoral Care and the small Jubilee Pamphlet The Anglo Catholic Social Conscience.  These pull together Ken’s passion and anger, his humour, his subversive orthodoxy, and his nurture of others, especially young priests.

He spent a weekend with us at St Bede’s, when I was fairly new in post, helping us to discern a vision and way forward as we tried to find a model of social engagement for a Church that was not about delivering projects.  He helped us come up with something that was sustainable and which went with our culture and energies.

He was an exceptional preacher.  I remember his sermon at my First Mass where he spoke of Jesus and brokeness.  Jesus broke bread, broke the rules and boundaries, broke Mary’s heart, lived with broken people, and was profoundly broken himself.  This was the heart of priestly ministry; it was to be the heart of my ministry; it was at the heart of much of Ken and his life.

I was really glad I managed to visit him and Julie, his wife, a few weeks before he died.

Thank you Ken.  Love and prayers.

April 22, 2012, 5:47 pm
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This week marks the 80th anniversary of the 1932 Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout which paved the way for working people to be able to enjoy their free time roaming in the open countryside near the industrial cities.  There is a wealth of information about the Trespass and how it is being commemorated here.

Such struggles in the past are vitally important for us now.  I know how much being able to spend my day off walking in the countryside means to me.  How I am re-shaped, re-made, re-created.  That I return home feeling better than I did at the start of the day, that I am able to appreciate and savour my life and my work all the more.  It is a vital thing that everyone has the chance to flourish in this way, that it is not dependent on birth or luck.  I recommit myself to the struggle to bring fullness of life, laughter and joy to all.  Will you join me?

happy may day
May 1, 2011, 3:05 pm
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 The Day is Coming by William Morris

(illustration by Walter Crane)

COME hither, lads, and harken, for a tale there is to tell,
Of the wonderful days a-coming, when all shall be better than well.
And the tale shall be told of a country, a land in the midst of the sea,
And folk shall call it England in the days that are going to be.
There more than one in a thousand in the days that are yet to come,         5
Shall have some hope of the morrow, some joy of the ancient home.
For then, laugh not, but listen to this strange tale of mine,
All folk that are in England shall be better lodged than swine.
Then a man shall work and bethink him, and rejoice in the deed of his hand,
Nor yet come home in the even too faint and weary to stand.         10
Men in that time a-coming shall work and have no fear
For to-morrow’s lack of earning and the hunger-wolf anear.
I tell you this for a wonder, that no man then shall be glad
Of his fellow’s fall and mishap to snatch at the work he had.
For that which the worker winneth shall then be his indeed,         15
Nor shall half be reaped for nothing by him that sowed no seed.
O strange new wonderful justice! But for whom shall we gather the gain?
For ourselves and for each of our fellows, and no hand shall labor in vain.
Then all Mine and all Thine shall be Ours, and no more shall any man crave
For riches that serve for nothing but to fetter a friend for a slave.         20
And what wealth then shall be left us when none shall gather gold
To buy his friend in the market, and pinch and pine the sold?
Nay, what save the lovely city, and the little house on the hill,
And the wastes and the woodland beauty, and the happy fields we till;
And the homes of ancient stories, the tombs of the mighty dead;         25
And the wise men seeking out marvels, and the poet’s teeming head;
And the painter’s hand of wonder; and the marvelous fiddle-bow,
And the banded choirs of music: all those that do and know.
For all these shall be ours and all men’s; nor shall any lack a share
Of the toil and the gain of living in the days when the world grows fair.         30
Ah! such are the days that shall be! But what are the deeds of to-day,
In the days of the years we dwell in, that wear our lives away?
Why, then, and for what are we waiting? There are three words to speak;
WE WILL IT, and what is the foeman but the dream-strong wakened and weak?
O why and for what are we waiting? while our brothers droop and die,         35
And on every wind of the heavens a wasted life goes by.
How long shall they reproach us where crowd on crowd they dwell,
Poor ghosts of the wicked city, the gold-crushed, hungry hell?
Through squalid life they labored, in sordid grief they died,
Those sons of a mighty mother, those props of England’s pride.         40
They are gone; there is none can undo it, nor save our souls from the curse;
But many a million cometh, and shall they be better or worse?
It is we must answer and hasten, and open wide the door
For the rich man’s hurrying terror, and the slow-foot hope of the poor.
Yea, the voiceless wrath of the wretched, and their unlearned discontent,         45
We must give it voice and wisdom till the waiting-tide be spent.
Come, then, since all things call us, the living and the dead,
And o’er the weltering tangle a glimmering light is shed.
Come, then, let us cast off fooling, and put by ease and rest,
For the Cause alone is worthy till the good days bring the best.         50
Come, join in the only battle wherein no man can fail,
Where whoso fadeth and dieth, yet his deed shall still prevail.
Ah! come, cast off all fooling, for this, at least, we know:
That the Dawn the Day is coming, and forth the Banners go.

rhyme and reason
January 26, 2011, 4:01 pm
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An excellent programme in this series, interviewing Billy Bragg about poetry.  Click here to listen again.

Mr Gee presents the final programme in the four part series, Rhyme and Reason.
This week he is joined by musician and activist Billy Bragg to talk about how poetry has played a major role in his life. Billy Bragg tells of how he’s used music and poetry to express his feelings at pivotal points in his life. We hear readings of his favourite poetry and music from his back catalogue going back over 25 years.

the role of the church in community regeneration

This is a departure from my usual blog posts.  Here is a discussion paper I have written on the role of churches like the ones I minister in within contemporary British society.

The Role of the Church in Community Regeneration – a view from the estate parishes[i].

This paper is written within the context of the Coalition Government’s Big Society agenda[ii], in which voluntary social action, public service reform and community empowerment are drawn together; the beginnings of partnership between the Church of England and other churches in delivering Big Society programmes; the start of stringent public spending cuts; opposition to this, particularly through street and campus protests.

This paper seeks to describe what this reality looks like from the perspective of a parish priest ministering in outer estate parishes in Birmingham.  It attempts to articulate some of the questions, difficulties and contradictions that such ministry leads to, and it looks at some of courses of action that seem most fruitful.  Please note that this is a discussion paper in which I am working out what I think.  It is not my final word and I would very much value any comments you have.

It is useful to reflect that next month marks the 25th anniversary of the Faith in the City Report.  Those years have seen a marked change in the culture of anglican parish churches in neighbourhoods marked by multiple deprivation and poverty as churches have developed community projects, enabling them to serve those in need in their parishes.  The Church has displayed a deep commitment to all people living in such areas.

In Birmingham Diocese, this commitment has particularly been through our parish churches (not least through the redistribution of resources from those in wealthier areas to those in poorer); through a commitment to being faithfully present in all areas of the Diocese; through service to our neighbourhoods (we are there for everyone who lives in them) particularly through parish based community projects, resourced by the Community Regeneration Department and Thrive West Midlands, and through city and diocese–wide work.

This commitment and presence of the church in the diocese has been deepened and made more effective by the partnerships that have been built up and established with local residents, local government, New Deals for Communities and other area based regeneration programmes, Third Sector organisations and many others. This model has been affirmed in the Church Reports Faithful Cities (2006) and Moral, But No Compass (2008) and in Crossover City (2010), the theological reflection commissioned by General Synod.

This faithful practice has been informed by a number of biblical and theological strands.  For myself, I would focus on the service of the Kingdom of God; the teaching of the Gospels to work with Christ in the creation of that alternative reality in which all people, and especially those who are “the least of the Lord’s sisters and brothers” may flourish; the discovery and service of Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters; the desire and imperative to help individuals and neighbourhoods to flourish (to expand on St Irenaeus, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive” is also seen in a neighbourhood or parish fully alive); the preferential option for the poor; the transformation of Christian communities into eucharistic people.  From a sacramental socialist perspective, we might look to patristic teaching on poverty and equality, to the example of the slum ritualist priests and parishes of a century ago, and to theology of liberation.

In her very helpful speech during General Synod’s debate of Big Society last week, Paula Gooder attempted to root the Church’s response to social and economic need in a biblical theology of community.  This seems to me to be a rich theme that I will be reflecting on in the future.  There is much here about the nature of corporateness; the nature of the Body of Christ; the Gospel tradition of community and Jesus being where the outcasts are; as well as much that can question and help us as we seek to understand and form ‘good societies’ in twenty first century Britain.

In the context of Birmingham, much of the grassroots-based work which is underpinned by such theological and spiritual vision has been informed and enriched by the key theological value of generosity, identified and reflected on so deeply by the late Bishop John Austin. The concept that a neighbourhood can only flourish when it is ‘clean, safe and generous’ has been a well-received and valued offering to Birmingham.

As a parish priest, I am interested to see that the Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda is similarly shaped to much of the work that my parishes, and many similar ones, have been engaged in for many years.  The parts of the Big Society that are about empowerment, mutuality, partnership resonate strongly with my own practice (and with such elements in the Labour tradition, and other strands such as community organizing and some anarchist thought).

It is also important to restate that anglican parishes (along with churches of other traditions in areas of deprivation and poverty) have been working in partnership with a whole stream of  national and local government initiatives for the last couple of decades (as has most of the Third Sector)[iii].  In the areas I minister in, the Church is deeply enmeshed in the Third Sector and in partnerships and relationships with government.  This way of working has been adopted in order to help both individuals and neighbourhoods to flourish.  Parish based community projects have sought funding in order to keep their essential work going; the relationship between Government and the Third Sector has evolved to enable this to happen; while strands like community organising have put an emphasis on building relationships and partnerships.  Another dimension of this is that church-originated projects have developed a great deal of good practice.  We should therefore, as part of our generosity, be seeking how we can model and share what we do well with others.

I would see such work as being about Incarnation, service and the works of mercy; it is about empowering individuals and helping them and communities to flourish; about creating the possibility and vision for alternative futures; as such it is focussed on the Kingdom of God, on prophetic action, on the justice of God.  Being pragmatic, it is difficult to see how the Church could withdraw from the partnerships with Government in its various forms without doing immense damage to the lives of vulnerable people in deprived areas.  In the neighbourhoods in which I work, existing Third Sector work would be decimated if the Church withdrew from partnerships.

There are obviously deep questions and concerns about the Big Society.  The key one is that it is being implemented at the same time as swinging public spending cuts.  It has been good to see the Church expressing grave concern about the cuts and their disproportionate effects on those in the bottom ten percent of our society[iv]. I would characterise our work as being about creating a just society in which all can flourish, and am opposed to anything that casts an unfair burden on or which stigmatises those in poverty.  The Church must be able to remain free to criticise Government.

I have worries and questions about the Church being coopted into the agendas of Government (of any party) or, indeed, of any funders, but believe that our faith in the God of the Incarnation impels us to take risks in the service of the world.  It would clearly be foolish to go so entirely down the Big Society line when it may prove to be just the latest in a series of short-lived Government programmes (while recognising that it has the potential to reshape public life for a generation).  We are bound to feel uncomfortable with a great deal of this, but this is not sufficient reason to withdraw from work that seeks to serve those in greatest needs and which tries to cooperate with the Kingdom of God.  At the same time, however, we need to discern the lines that we should not cross.

The experience we have in developing areas of work which chime in with the Big Society allow us to see that Big Society type empowerment needs proper resourcing both in terms of finance and time if it is to be successful.  It is important that the cuts do not leave us having to make bricks without straw[v].  It is essential for the Church to maintain the freedom and vision to be able to speak prophetically against actions that we identify as harming those in greatest need in our society.

On the same basis our churches in this time of austerity need more than ever to look at the resources that we have and to see how we can make a greater offering to the communities and neighbourhoods we serve. Anglican churches in many of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Birmingham have a history of presence, sustaining and offering when on paper they have nothing whether it is through people, buildings or money – in many cases this is a widow’s mite offering. The opportunity for the wider and wealthier church to understand and support this has not always been seized and perhaps it is time for us to model a Church of England Big Society to demonstrate what might be possible in wider society.  We practice financial redistribution through the Common Fund and Parish Share.  How might this be yeast that transforms all our life as a Church?

This leads to the related question of what we can do while living with the cuts.  It is clear that life for parish based community projects and for people living in deprived parishes is going to be more difficult in the coming years.  As individual Christians and as Church communities, we need a very serious engagement with the reality of this.  In terms of estate parishes this might best be done by continuing to develop reflective practice whereby people reflect on the Gospels and their own stories, or those of people they know, so that they are led more deeply into the work of the Kingdom.  The methods of liberation theology are of key importance in this first step.  It is also important that those who serve the Church by teaching should help parishes in contexts of poverty and deprivation through Gramsci’s model of the organic intellectual.

It is vital that our work is connected with others.  Many of us are engaged in struggle to make the world better through movements like the unions or campaigns like the Peoples Charter.  It is essential that our work is as broad based as possible and as effective as possible.

There is a great importance in paying continuous attention as to why we are engaged in this work and this ministry.  We pray that all we do is rooted in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  As far as possible, we should model a life that is a beautiful, hopeful, creative and joyful offering to God.  We know that it is easy to become deformed in the struggle for justice.  Our life therefore needs to be strongly rooted in the disciplines of prayer and worship; we are here for the long haul.

Andy Delmege is Vicar of St Bede, Brandwood and Priest in Charge of St Gabriel, Weoley Castle in Birmingham Diocese.  He is the Convenor of Strengthening Estates Ministry.

An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Society of Sacramental Socialists Christ the King Meeting in November 2010 (http://sacramentalsocialists.wordpress.com/)

[i] Non-British readers should note that ‘estates’ refer to neighbourhoods made up of social housing, often with associated problems of poverty and multiple deprivation.  In the US, they would be referred to as ‘inner city housing projects’.  The estates that form the context for my work and ministry are ‘outer estates’ meaning social housing built since the First World War on the outskirts of British cities to house the white working class population as the inner city districts were slum-cleared.

[ii] See, for example Jesse Norman The Big Society: Anatomy of the New Politics, University of Buckingham Press, 2010

[iii] as Ken Leech has observed (private conversation, November 2010), partnerships between the Church and Government to overcome poverty and deprivation goes back at least to 1870.  In this paper, I am concerned chiefly with the particular relationships developed over the last couple of decades as the Government has commissioned the Third Sector to undertake particular bits of work.

[iv] see for example Archbishop Rowan’s interview with Radio WM on November 7th, or the five bishops quoted by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in the Daily Telegraph on November 21st.

[v] this phrase comes from a private conversation with Andrew Davey.

sing alleluia and keep on walking
November 27, 2010, 8:50 am
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Sing Alleluia! and Keep on Walking.
from The Eye of the Storm by Kenneth Leech. (London, Darton, Longman, and Todd, ©1992)


There is nothing quite like the experience of walking to promote comradeship. The Church is meant to be a people on the march, moving forward in solidarity, a pilgrim people. Sadly, it often becomes a stagnant, backward-looking people.The Church of the future needs to choose between a settler mentality and a pioneer mentality. To stand still in the spiritual life is to go backwards. The pilgrim community is one which is oriented toward the future, a community marked and motivated by a divinely-inspired restlessness. As the Jewish Passover was to be eaten in haste by people ready to move on, so the pilgrim community must always be moving forwards. Lot’s wife looked backwards and became one of God’s frozen people.

Our spiritual pilgrimage is not within an artificial religious world, but within the real world in which coal is mined and lemon meringue pie is made, the world in which companies are taken over and homeless people die in the streets, the world in which wars are declared and millions long for peace and for justice. Many Christians have been encouraged by a distorted spirituality to see this world as no more than a “vale of tears and woe”. But the gospel calls us to proclaim that God loves the world, and that salvation is about its transformation. We need, therefore, in the future more worldly Christians, Christians who will renounce the false values of “the world” in the biblical sense of the fallen world order, but who will love and cherish the world in the sense of the material creation, the work of God and the sphere of his redeeming activity.

The pilgrim community will often travel in the dark. One of the most serious accusations leveled against religious people is that they think they have God taped. They are too cocksure, they have all the answers. We need, as a pilgrim community, to be marching into the darkness, and will be puzzled and confused as to the direction we should take. A pilgrim community will often travel in half-light, in uncertainty and bewilderment. We need to be at home in this night of faith if we are to progress.

The pilgrim community of the future, like its predecessors, will be confronted by monsters, by forces of evil and oppression. Confronted by such monsters, we will need all the spiritual resources we can get. This is not the time for spiritual striptease: we will need more adequate resources and a richer and deeper interior life. For we are called to a spirituality of combat. It is no accident that the march is often a symbol of protest. This Christian pilgrimage is a march against oppression, a march from the oppressive realm of Babylon to the new Jerusalem, the home of peace and justice. There is no way to escape this conflict with the forces of evil within the fallen world order.

The pilgrim community will often be limping and wounded. Jacob wrestled with God all night, and at the end of the night he still did not know the name of God. He emerged from that struggle wounded. The best pastors, the best spiritual guides, are those who have experienced wounding, pain, dereliction and suffering. A we are healed by Christ’s wounds, so will others be healed by our wounds — or rather, by our sharing in the wounds of Christ. We are called to be wounded healers.

A community of pilgrims needs to abandon clutter and to recover fundamentals. It needs to be set free from the obsession with trivia, to discriminate between things that abide, and passing fashions and fads. The sacraments of the pilgrim Church deal with basic things — bread, water, oil, the clasp of our sisters’ and our brothers’ hand. They are the food, provisions and resources for a people on the move.

A community of pilgrims who are rooted and grounded in Christ’s resurrection will be characterised by joy. Not the bogus cheeriness of the hearty, jolly, back-slapping Christians, but the deep joy of those who have attained an inner assurance, a confidence and trust in the power of the risen Christ. A pilgrim Church must be a joyful confident Church, which sings the songs of freedom in the midst of its bondage. “Sing Alleluia and keep on walking,” says St. Augustine in one of his most memorable sermons. As we move into the heart of the storm we will sing but we will keep on walking.

with thanks to Anglocatholicsocialism


creative, just, passionate, joyful future
November 25, 2010, 1:36 pm
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Christ the King

Lord Jesus our Leader

we give ourselves to you

for the cause of your glorious Kingdom.

For joy or for sorrow,

for success or for failure,

for life or for death,

now and forever more.


prayer of the Society of Sacramental Socialists (website to be updated soon)

love in action
November 17, 2010, 2:40 pm
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“As Dostoevski said: ‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”

– Dorothy Day

November 13, 2010, 10:51 am
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Following from yesterday, again finding vision and ways of living in difficult times.  Here are the Beatitudes from the Sixth Chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.